The Tao of Faith

by Jack Crabtree


I want to do two things in this paper: (1) identify and explain an interesting idea shared by Taoist philosophy and modern Evangelicalism; and (2) begin to examine the teaching of the Bible to see whether this fascinating notion is to be found there. The distinctive idea in question I will refer to as “the Tao of Faith.” (Note 1) I begin by explaining the teaching of Taoist philosophy on those points where I find it so strikingly similar to the teaching of Evangelical Christianity.

 

I. TAOISM

Taoism is an ancient Chinese philosophy; and for some it is a religion based on and derived from that philosophy. The key concept in Taoist philosophy is ‘the Tao’. In Chinese, tao, literally translated, means something like ‘way’; but this literal translation is not helpful for understanding tao in its most important sense.

‘The Tao’ is the ultimate power which creates, energizes, moves, animates, and underlies the whole of reality and everything in it. If not for the Tao, nothing would exist at all. It is responsible for the existence of everything that is and provides everything that lives and moves with its animating force. In the Tao Te Ching, the Taoist ‘scriptures’, we read:

There is a thing inherent and natural,
Which existed before heaven and earth,
Motionless and fathomless,
It stands alone and never changes;
It pervades everywhere and never becomes exhausted.
It may be regarded as the Mother of the Universe.
I do not know its name.
If I am forced to give it a name, I call it Tao, and I name it as supreme.
Supreme means going on;
Going on means going far;
Going far means returning.
Therefore Tao is supreme; heaven is supreme; earth is supreme;
and man is also supreme. There are in the universe four things supreme,
and man is one of them.
Man follows the laws of earth;
Earth follows the laws of heaven;
Heaven follows the laws of Tao;
Tao follows the laws of its intrinsic nature.
(Note 2)

In a later chapter, we read:

The great Tao pervades everywhere, both on the left and on the right.
By it all things came into being, and it does not reject them.
Merits accomplished, it does not possess them.
It loves and nourishes all things but does not dominate over them.
It is always non-existent; therefore it can be named as small.
All things return home to it, and it does not claim mastery over them;
therefore it can be named as great.
Because it never assumes greatness, therefore it can accomplish
greatness.
(Note 3)

Any true philosophy of human existence must tell us how to live. Taoism does just that. According to Taoism, a human being can live, act, and think in harmony with the Tao–the ultimate, good and creative life-force which underlies all that is–or he can live, act, and think at cross-purposes to the Tao. The Tao is like a giant river flowing in a particular direction. As an individual human being, I can either relax and permit myself to be swept along by its flow, or I can struggle against it, seeking to swim across its flow or even to swim upstream. Even my efforts to move against its flow are, of course, ultimately empowered by the Tao itself; but because they are not efforts which take me in the same direction as the Tao, they will be clumsy, unsuccessful, futile, and unproductive. (Note 4)

Under this view, human existence will be good, happy, and fulfilling just to the extent that I live my life in harmony with the flowing power of the Tao and not at cross-purposes to it. And why is this exactly? Because a life lived in harmony with the Tao is a life energized by the direct and undiffused power of the Tao. But a life lived at cross-purposes to the Tao is a life lived under a different sort of power–the power of one’s individual self. Since ultimately no power exists except the power of the Tao, the power of one’s individual self is ultimately the power of the Tao as well; but it is diffused and particularized, not the pure, undifferentiated power of the Tao in its fundamental harmony. So human beings, while being empowered by the Tao, are able to take control of their own lives, to make decisions, and to take action out of the force of their own particular wills. The result, says the Taoist, is unfortunate. Self-effort, self-control, and self-assertion lead to evil, vice, failure, and imperfection. Creative work performed out of self-effort is inferior to the creative work performed under the undiluted and undifferentiated power of the Tao. Wisdom gained through self-effort and learning is inferior to the wisdom consisting of submission to the Tao. The deed performed out of self-effort is unproductive, weak, or unsuccessful. But the deed done out of dependence upon the all-empowering Tao will be good, effective, and successful. In this rests the secret to living human life. One must live his life utterly and completely in dependence upon and in submission to the power of the Tao; he must learn to set aside the power of his individual selfhood.

But how does one do such a thing? How does one ensure that one’s thoughts, efforts, and actions are being empowered by the Tao, and not by one’s individual self? The secret, says the Taoist, is to learn the attitude of wu wei. Wu wei means something like ‘inaction’. Wu wei is the ability to “get out of the way” and let the Tao go to work. Wu wei is a frame of mind–or a state of the human will–where my external self, my individual personhood, remains passive and inactive so that the Tao at the core of my true, inner being can be active in and through me. Huston Smith describes wu wei this way:

…a certain dissociation from the surface self… The conscious mind must relax, stop standing in its own light, let go. Only so is it possible to break through the law of reversed effort in which the more we try the more our efforts boomerang.Wu wei is the supreme action, the precious suppleness, simplicity, and freedom that flows from us, or rather through us, when our private egos and conscious efforts yield to a power not their own…. Taoism’s approach is… to get the foundations of the self in tune with Tao and let behavior flow spontaneously. Action follows being; new action follows new being, wiser being, stronger being. The Tao Te Ching puts this point without wasting a word. “The way to do,” it says, “is to be.” (Note 5)

Wu wei, then, is a sort of mental or volitional technique; and in this technique lies the secret to living a successful and productive human existence. All one needs to do is to learn to lay aside one’s individual selfhood, to render it passive and inactive, so that one’s action and efforts might be directly empowered by and in harmony with the Tao itself.

 

II. MODERN EVANGELICALISM AND THE VICTORIOUS CHRISTIAN LIFE

I turn now to modern Evangelical teaching. Modern Evangelicalism, I submit, has been permanently influenced by those who proclaim the secret for living the “victorious Christian life,” where the promised victory is primarily, but not exclusively, understood to be a victory over sin in one’s personal behavior. It is noteworthy that–with very little variation–all the advocates of the “victorious Christian life” proclaim pretty much the same secret. (Note 6)

Their explanation begins with a particular understanding of the relationship between God and His creation. God is the source of all power. There exists no power without Him; for there is no other source of power in the universe. If I do good, the power to do so comes from God. If I do evil, the power to do so must come from God. It must; there is no other source of power from which it could come.

What, then, is the difference between a good act and an evil one? A good act, according to this teaching, is an act which has been directly and purely empowered by God Himself. God can do no evil. He is good without a shade of evil. When God acts directly, His actions are purely and uncompromisingly good. But human beings do not necessarily act out of the direct and pure power of God acting within them. Indeed, as sinful, rebellious human beings, our natural human tendency is to attempt to act in total independence from God. We cannot, of course, be truly independent of God; for we are His creatures, and we are helpless to act at all apart from His divine power moving us and giving us life and being. But though we cannot act in a way that is truly and ultimately independent, we can act in a manner that is independent in a relative sense. The human being has the ability to take the power God imparts to him and commandeer it for his own self-centered purposes and ends; but when he does so, he distorts and perverts that power. (Note 7) Any action a man takes which is independent of God in this latter sense will be weak, ineffective, destructive, and morally evil. Such is the way of ‘the flesh’ say the advocates of the “victorious Christian life.”

An individual’s ‘flesh’–one’s individual humanity lived in an illusory independence from God–can never do what is right and good. It can only do evil. Even when it looks righteous and good, its essential nature and the essential nature of its effects will be sin, death, and destruction. (Note 8)

How, then, can one live a life of morally good deeds rather than evil ones? By living one’s life not out of the distorting and perverting power of one’s own flesh, but by living one’s life out of the pure and unperverted power of God Himself. In other words, by learning the secret technique called “walking by the Spirit.” (Note 9)

And what exactly is this technique? How does one “walk by the Spirit?” By “getting out of the way.” By living one’s life in conscious dependence upon the power of God rather than in dependence upon one’s own self-generated power. By living one’s life in dependence upon God’s divine resources rather than in dependence upon one’s own. In other words, by setting aside the ‘flesh’ and allowing oneself to be empowered by the Spirit of God instead. To walk by the Spirit is to have the ability to keep one’s individual human self–one’s flesh–passive and inactive so that it does not block or interfere with the inner power of God flowing through one. In doing so, a person ensures that it will be God’s power–not his own perverted power–that animates and empowers him in all that he does. (Note 10)

Another important phrase is used to describe this same technique: “walking (or living) by faith.” (Note 11) Based on the fact that faith–pistis–can mean trust, the idea is this: the one who “walks by faith” is the one who trusts in the power of God and does not trust in the power of his own flesh. The one who walks by faith has the power to overcome sin, the ability to be powerful and effective in evangelism and ministry, and the power to live a successful life generally.

Now notice that this concept is not an obscure and eccentric teaching of a small fringe group of Evangelicals; it has permeated the very heart of the Evangelical tradition. Hardly an Evangelical teacher alive does not incorporate somewhere into his teaching the notions “walking by faith” and “walking according to the Spirit” in exactly those senses defined above. Many Evangelicals teach “walking by the spirit” as just one among many doctrines which make up their overall theology. Other Bible teachers promote “walking by the Spirit” to the center-stage of Christian doctrine and emphasize it as the most important secret to living the Christian life. (Note 12) But in any case, the notion of “walking by the Spirit” and other related notions are significant fixtures in the Evangelical view of reality.

 

III. TAOISM AND THE VICTORIOUS CHRISTIAN LIFE: THE COMMON SECRET

As is undoubtedly obvious by now, there are striking and important parallels between the teaching of the Taoist philosopher and the modern Evangelical. For the Taoist, success and power is achieved in human experience when one’s actions result from the direct, undistorted power of the Tao. For the Evangelical, this same success and power is achieved when one’s actions arise from the direct and undistorted power of the Spirit of God. For the Taoist, wu wei is the state of consciousness one must learn in order to ensure such success. For the Evangelical, faith is the state of consciousness which ensures his success. And further, when once we have spelled out the exact nature of wu wei and faith respectively, we find they are exactly the same–namely, a state of passive dependence upon the power of God (or of the Tao), a state of being where, through an act of his will, one has set his independent, surface self aside. Faith and wu wei are both a volitional “stepping aside” in order that the power of God (Tao) within one might flow out, without interruption or distortion, into creative, powerful, good, and successful action. What we find is this: if one were to substitute ‘God’ for ‘the Tao’, and ‘faith’ for ‘wu wei’, there is no significant difference between how the ancient Taoist philosopher and the modern Evangelical would counsel us to live life.

The modern Evangelical would likely object to this latter contention. He would say his approach to life is entirely different from that of ancient Taoism; for while the ancient Taoist counsels us to live in dependence upon the Tao, the modern Evangelical counsels us to live in dependence upon the one and only true and living God. Taoism is a form of idolatry; the worship and service of a false god. Evangelicalism is true religion; for it is trust in the true God.

That the Tao is a false god and not one and the same as the true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is not so obvious as the Evangelical is inclined to think. Nonetheless, I shall grant this point and the force of this objection. Indeed, walking by the Spirit of the true God who really is there should logically lead to success in life that cannot be found by passive dependence upon an imaginary Tao that is not there.

But this objection misses my real point. The thing that is so strikingly parallel between Taoism and modern Evangelicalism is not the one by whom a person is empowered, but how a person is empowered by Him or by it. The amazing similarity between the modern Evangelical’s conception of faith and the Taoist’s conception of wu wei is the noteworthy point. What are we to make of that similarity? Should I view it as a problem that modern Evangelicalism espouses the same wisdom for living life as does ancient Taoism?

It is not necessarily a problem, of course. Very possibly, Taoism has captured an aspect of truth; a truth, however, that is only rightly founded in the context of biblical Christianity and not in the context of Taoism. And, very possibly, wu wei is a subtle counterfeit of the truth of living by faith. Be that as it may, the parallel struck me powerfully when I was first introduced to Taoism. The problems, issues, metaphors, and questions raised by the Taoist in seeking to describe or understand wu wei were all the same problems, issues, metaphors, and questions I confronted directly in seeking to understand Evangelical teaching on “walking by the Spirit.” It sure felt to me like the Taoist and I were philosophers seeking to come to terms with exactly the same concept.

But the question immediately arises: Has Evangelicalism been directly influenced by Taoist thought? Where did the notions of “living by faith” and “walking in the Spirit” come from? Did they arise from a careful, straightforward reading of the biblical text? Or did they come from interpreting the Bible in the light of Taoist ideas and concepts wrongly imposed on the biblical text? And, if so, by whom? Who introduced the Christian world to this way of understanding the Bible? (Note 13)

While this would be an interesting and perhaps profitable line of inquiry, the more significant issue is not where Taoist Evangelical thought first originated, but whether or not it is true. In the final analysis, the fact that Taoist Evangelical teaching arose because of the influence of Taoism is no problem if what it teaches is true and biblical. The important question, then, is this: Does the teaching of Taoist Evangelicalism accurately capture what the Bible actually teaches? I shall explore this question in the remainder of this paper.

Before I proceed, however, let me be clear about the terminology I shall be using. When I refer to the ‘Tao of Faith’ throughout the rest of the paper, I am referring to the belief that the secret to living the successful Christian life lies in one’s learning to stop trusting in himself–that is, in his own fleshly resources–and to begin trusting in the Spirit of God to live in and through him. This is simply the doctrine of ‘walking by the Spirit’ or ‘walking by faith’. By calling it ‘the Tao of Faith’, I do not mean to imply that the doctrine derives from Taoism, nor do I mean to denigrate the doctrine in any way; but it seems to me that calling it the Tao of Faith focuses our thinking clearly on the distinctive idea which lies at the foundation of this teaching. In other words, I call it the Tao of Faith by analogy to Taoist teaching, not in order to create a prejudice against it by association.

In the same vein, then, when I refer to certain teachers as Taoist Evangelicals, or to certain doctrines as Taoist Evangelicalism, I am simply referring to those teachers who teach the Tao of Faith–or those doctrines which are based on the Tao of Faith–as I have just defined it. Again, I am in no way suggesting any historical or philosophical connection with Taoism; I am only attempting to isolate and clarify a distinctive feature of their teaching.

 

IV. IS THE TAO OF FAITH BIBLICAL?

Quite naturally, Taoist Evangelicalism is convinced that its teaching is true and biblical; indeed, that it is the only authentic and true understanding of the Christian gospel, and that any understanding of the Bible at odds with it is a distortion of the real thing. Accordingly, the Taoist Evangelical sees the concepts and themes of Taoist Evangelicalism everywhere in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. The alleged omnipresence of these Taoist themes in the Bible is very impressive and overwhelmingly compelling. Once one’s eyes have been opened to see the Tao of faith, one begins to see it taught everywhere, and one wonders how he could have missed it before.

Some excerpts from one Taoist Evangelical illustrate the way Taoist Evangelicalism looks at and reasons from the Scriptures:

It is impossible to read the Bible even casually and miss the fact that faith is of crucial importance–especially when you come across statements like “Everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23), and “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). So we all agree how important it is to live by faith. But the nagging questions just won’t go away: What does it mean to live by faith? And: How do you do it?

. . . The indwelling life of Christ is released in our daily experience when we live as He [Jesus] did, by faith–that is, with total dependency upon the God who lives in us. But “a life of total dependency” is an elusive concept for people to grasp. The best explanation I have heard has been expressed by Major Ian Thomas in what he calls the “threefold interlock.” A life of faith is our love for God, resulting in dependency upon God, resulting in obedience to God.

. . . It is only as we approach the Christian life in this order that we will be experiencing the true freedom and life that God has purposed for us, and it’s the only way we will be truly obeying God according to His will. Unfortunately though, most Christian teaching throughout history and today has been directed at getting Christians to live obediently, while ignoring the necessity of love and dependency. It can never work. (Note 14)

The Taoist Evangelical sees the Tao of Faith contained in every biblical reference to faith; he sees it in the Bible’s insistence upon the humanity of Jesus and His own life of dependency and submission to His father; and he sees it in every statement which declares the power and adequacy of God in contrast to the inadequacy and weakness of man. So, from the perspective of those who have embraced the Tao of Faith, the question–Is the Tao of Faith biblical?–receives a resounding, “Yes, of course!”

But the question we need to explore is this: Does the Taoist Evangelical see the Tao of Faith everywhere in the Bible because it is taught there, or does he see it because he is reading the Bible through Taoist lenses? Any sophisticated understanding of the process of interpretation will recognize the legitimacy of such a question. We will always tend to see in the Bible a confirmation of the strong and important assumptions which we already have when we first open our Bibles. Is this the case in Taoist Evangelical interpretation, or are Taoist Evangelicals really seeing something Jesus and the apostles intended to teach?

Since a Taoist Evangelical might turn for support to a seemingly limitless number of passages, I cannot even begin to deal with each and every disputed passage. Given the scope of this paper, I can only look at one passage in detail. I will examine the very important concept of “walking by the Spirit” as Paul uses it in Galatians 5.

 

A. “Walking by the Spirit” in Taoist Evangelicalism

Galatians 5, one of the most important passages of Scripture to one who seeks to defend the Tao of Faith, easily lends itself to an interpretation which would support Taoist Evangelical teaching. In a context where Paul argues that we are to live righteous lives, he suggests that the way we can succeed is by “walking by the Spirit.” He says, “. . . walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh”; and a bit later he adds, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” It is quite apparent how the Evangelical Taoist will be inclined to read these verses. To live (“walk”) by the Spirit is to allow the divine resources of the Spirit of God to empower me; to walk by the Spirit is to step out of the way so that the Spirit of God can energize me to live a life in accordance with God’s purpose, plan, and will. In opposition to this, to walk (or to live) by the flesh is to block the flow of divine resources through me by seeking to live by the power and strength of my own natural human resources. Rather than look to the power of God to enliven me, I look within myself for the power and the wherewithal to do whatever I set out to do. So, “walking by the Spirit” is to live life by allowing the power of God to flow through me into action; “walking by the flesh” is to live life by looking to my own resources as I try to live as I ought to live.

This is precisely how the typical Evangelical Taoist would interpret Galatians 5. But is this right? Is this what Paul means by “walk by the Spirit” in Galatians 5? No, it is not. We must look at Galatians 5 more closely.

 

B. “Walking by the Spirit” in Galatians 5

The promise “. . . walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh,” is found in Galatians 5:16. To understand what Paul is saying, we need to understand the argument of the letter as he has developed it up to that point.

 

1. The Context

From the beginning of the letter until Chapter 5, Paul has argued that the Christian believer has, by virtue of his trust in a New Covenant, been set free from any and all religious obligations–whether the religious obligations of the Mosaic covenant (the Law) or the religious obligations of Galatian paganism. And why is the believer free of all religious obligations? Because he is free of all covenantal obligations; and it is only in the context of the Mosaic covenant (or some pagan analog to it) that one has any religious obligations. In other words, according to the Gospel, one does not gain justification in God’s eyes by successfully obeying the terms of some contract; rather, God simply grants justifiedness as a gift to those whom he chooses to give such a gift. One does not make himself qualified for justification by obeying various moral and religious requirements. Rather, according to the Gospel, one is granted justification in God’s eyes gratuitously. But if one is given justifiedness as a gift, one need not practice religion to get it.

Therefore, when in Galatians 5:1-12 Paul sums up the argument of his letter, he sums it up with a slogan, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” (Note 15) In the Gospel, freedom is the name of the game–freedom from any contractual obligation to be morally or religiously obedient before one can be justified before God.

But if freedom is the name of the game, how exactly are we to understand the freedom from law and the freedom from rules that Christ brings? The Law required not only religious activities, but also moral behavior. If we are free from the Law, are we no longer under obligation to keep the moral commandments? Are we now exempt from having to be morally good people since we are no longer under Law? Paul, anticipating just such a question, responds to it:

For you were called to freedom, brethren; but do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. The whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another. (Galatians 5:13)

The ‘flesh’ for Paul–in this particular context–is a term he uses to denote a human being’s innate and natural capacities, tendencies, and realities. In other words, my ‘flesh’ is just who I am as a human creature apart from any changes that might be effected in me through divine intervention or re-creation. Since I am innately a rebellious sinner, hostile to God and to everything He is and values, the concept of ‘flesh’ will usually have a negative connotation. It denotes my innate wickedness, evil, and rebelliousness. We could accurately paraphrase Paul’s concept of the ‘flesh’ in this context as “innate human sinfulness.” The above passage could, therefore, be paraphrased, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; but do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for your innate human sinfulness. Rather, through love, serve one another.” In other words, Paul is saying something like this:

It is true, my brothers, that in Christ you were called to freedom. But the freedom you were called to is freedom from the Law and freedom from any covenantal obligation to God. You were not set free from the obligation to be good and righteous. No human being is ever free of that obligation. So, do not let your innate human sinfulness pervert the message of freedom implicit in the Gospel into a rationalization of evil behavior. Don’t let your wickedness take advantage of your release from the Law. Don’t let it use the vague and ill-defined slogan of “freedom from the Law” as a justification for its evil actions. No; instead, recognizing and acknowledging your freedom from the Law, pursue a life of service to one another, motivated by a good and righteous love for others. (Note 16)

Paul immediately goes on to make two observations relative to this point:

(1) Ironically, if one pursues a life of loving service to others, he is, in fact, seeking to obey the essential core of what the Law of Moses commanded anyway. So, while the believer has been set free of any covenantal obligation to the Law of Moses, he should still feel compelled to obey its most important commandments anyway–not out of duty to a covenantal obligation, but out of the duty which comes from an inherent desire within himself to be and to do good.

(2) Furthermore, if one does choose to justify one’s selfishness and evil on the grounds that “we are free from the Law,” the result will be a complete breakdown in one’s human relationships. The innate sinfulness and evil of my ‘flesh’–if allowed to express itself unchecked–will bring nothing but destruction to my own life and to the lives of everyone I touch. As Paul puts it in Galatians 5:15, “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out or you shall be consumed by one another.” In other words, turning away from the universal moral obligation to love one another is not a smart thing to do; it won’t be fun. It will only unleash all the evil, destructive potential of the natural human heart–the ‘flesh’–and it won’t be a pretty sight. The result can be likened to raw and savage cannibalism.

At this point in his argument, then, Paul makes the assertion that interests us in this paper. He tells the Galatians that if they will “walk by the Spirit” they will not “carry out the desire of their flesh.” To understand what Paul is saying here, we need to recall what is at issue in the letter itself.

 

2. The Issue Being Addressed

There are a number of fronts whereupon the difference between Paul and the false teachers–the Judaizers–could be explored. What interests us here is their difference in perspective on the issue of moral goodness and righteous living. Their difference boils down to this: what sort of approach to God will successfully promote the righteousness and goodness which God desires for me to express. The Judaizers, at one level or another, are convinced that only the threat of forfeiting our inheritance can adequately motivate us to pursue goodness and righteousness. What motivates obedience is the threat that, if we fail to pursue righteousness in obedience to the covenant, we will not be granted the promised blessing from God . From this perspective, therefore, the Judaizers are promoting full and complete obedience to the Mosaic covenant. For them, Jesus did not come to save those who had discovered how incapable they were of keeping the Mosaic covenant; Jesus is the Messiah sent to save those who can and do keep the covenant. Therefore, from the Judaizers’ point of view, if a person were to be set free from his obligation to keep the Mosaic covenant–and, therefore, were released from his covenantal obligation to pursue righteousness in order to obtain the promised blessing–then he simply would not pursue righteousness and goodness; no other motivation for the pursuit of goodness is strong enough to make it happen. Accordingly, if I believe Paul’s gospel–that is, if I believe that God has brought about my justification another way (apart from the Mosaic covenant), and if I believe that the promised blessing can be securely mine even though I do not, cannot, and need not satisfy the conditions of the Mosaic covenant through obeying its commandments–then, according to the Judaizers, I will find myself pursuing every evil desire and not pursuing the righteousness and goodness God desires of me. In Paul’s language, I will find myself “carrying out the desire of the flesh.”

In order to counter this line of reasoning from the Judaizers, Paul states what he does in Galatians 5:16–“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” This is a direct and explicit rebuttal to the Judaizers’ prediction, “walk by the Spirit and you will carry out the desire of the flesh.” Paul flatly contradicts them, “walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” In other words, whereas the Judaizers argue that anyone who believes the gospel will find himself pursuing, as a consequence, a life of evil rebellion against God and goodness, Paul asserts the opposite: one who believes the Gospel will not, as a consequence, pursue a life of evil. Paul’s main concern is quite simple: contrary to the Judaizers’ ignorant and hysterical fears, coming to embrace the Gospel of justification by grace apart from the Law will not turn a person into a lawless transgressor.

In understanding Paul’s statement as I have, I assume that “walking by the Spirit” is a way of describing the reality of believing in the Gospel. It is, in some important respect, synonymous with pursuing justification on the basis of the forgiveness promised in the New Covenant, with trusting in Jesus’ sacrificial death as the basis for my forgiveness rather than pursuing the justification promised in the Mosaic Covenant. But is this right? Is there any way to make sense out of this? I think we can. But I must tell a longer story to explain how.

 

3. “Walking by the Spirit” and Belief in the Gospel

Paul has argued earlier in Galatians (as he does extensively in the book of Romans) that “. . . by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight.” (Romans 3:20) What he means is this: due to his inescapably evil moral nature, no human being can possibly obey the requirements of the covenant which God made with Moses and the people of Israel. The moral requirements in the Law of Moses, rightly understood, are so demanding of moral goodness and purity that no natural human being could possibly fulfill those demands. If any human is to find justification in God’s eyes, it will have to come another way. It cannot come through obedience to the Law of God.

The good news is: there is another way whereby a human can find justification in God’s eyes. This proclamation is the essence of the gospel. According to what Paul calls the “New Covenant,” God has provided–in the death of the Messiah, Jesus–the ground upon which He can extend mercy and can forgive the moral failings of any whom He chooses. These chosen few, having been forgiven and having been granted justification in God’s sight, are once again eligible to receive the promised reward of the Mosaic Covenant: eternal life.

But who are these people, these chosen few? To whom does God extend mercy? Very simply, He extends mercy to whomever He wills. But are these few invisible? Or does some distinguishing mark make it apparent who has and who has not been selected as a “vessel of mercy”?

According to the teaching of the New Testament, there is a distinguishing mark on those who have been chosen by God; this is where the discussion of “the Spirit” enters the picture. If and when God elects a person for justification–and ultimately, therefore, for salvation–He sends His divine Spirit to perform a miraculous work in that person. The Spirit “regenerates” or “renews” the person, “washing” or purging him of some uncleanness that is otherwise in the human heart. This is what Paul has in mind when he writes to Titus:

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)

Notice that Paul says we are not saved “on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness.” Rather, we are saved on the basis of God’s “mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” Paul explicitly connects the invisible basis of our justification–God’s mercy–to the visible and tangible mark that we have been chosen for mercy. God not only grants invisible justification to the elect; He also tangibly marks the lives of those whom He has justified and plans to save. So, to say we are saved on the basis of our having been washed by the Holy Spirit’s regenerating and renewing our inner life is not inaccurate, but it is important to understand what Paul means. We are not justified in God’s eyes because and on the grounds that we have now been washed through regeneration; rather, we are justified because of the mercy of God on the basis of the death that Jesus died in our stead. Our justification is tied to our regeneration, not because our regeneration is the basis of our acceptance, but because there is a strict correlation between those who are justified in God’s eyes and those whose inner beings have been regenerated. If God elects to show His mercy and grant justification to a person as a gift, then He will also necessarily elect to regenerate that person’s inner being as a distinguishing mark of His election. (Note 17) The converse is true as well. Hence, Paul can describe us as being saved “according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit. . . .” God’s saving mercy is always and necessarily accompanied by the regeneration of our inner beings by the Spirit of God. If there is no regeneration, then there is no election by God to His saving mercy; if there is regeneration, then there necessarily is salvation by His mercy.

The regenerating or renewing activity of the Spirit of God is analogous to circumcision in the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants. Circumcision was the outward, tangible sign that one had been chosen to receive God’s blessing as a child of Abraham. Under the New Covenant–the Gospel–there is also an outward, tangible sign that one has been chosen to receive the blessing of Abraham. But physical circumcision is not this sign, because the true sign that one is an heir of the true inheritance is not made by human hands, but by the hand of God. The true circumcision is the mark left on our inner beings–our “hearts”–by the regenerating work of the divine Spirit.

Paul has this point in mind when he addresses a different issue in Romans 2, one which has the Mosaic Covenant and not the New Covenant as its context:

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. (Romans 2:28-29)

The true child of Abraham, the true heir of the promises, Paul says, is not the physically circumcised Jew, rather it is the Jew who has a whole different attitude toward the Law of God because the Spirit of God has “circumcised” his heart. The true heir desires to keep the Law and longs to be obedient; he does not take it lightly; he is not prone to disregard or ignore it. This is exactly what we find in the New Covenant as well. According to the Gospel, the true child of Abraham who stands to inherit the blessing is the one whose “heart” has been washed, regenerated, and renewed. In other words, it is the one whose heart has been “circumcised by the Spirit.” (Note 18)

Now here is the critical issue: what exactly does this “washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit” which marks an elect person as one who stands to receive mercy look like? What sort of change, transformation, and renewal is it?

Modern Evangelical teaching is quick to conclude that this regeneration is the creation in us of a ‘new nature’ to replace our ‘old, sinful, Adamic nature’. And this ‘new nature’ seems to mean a new moral nature. (Note 19) We are morally transformed people if the Spirit has worked in our hearts. We are no longer sinners; we no longer have a sinful nature (though–we are quick to point out–we do still sin). We are now morally perfect with respect to our true being, the being created in us by the Spirit of God.

But this hasty conclusion is a mistake. This is not what Paul and the other New Testament authors have in mind. Our moral natures are not transformed by the regenerating work of the Spirit, rather our ‘hearts’–our ‘spirits’–are transformed by the work of the Spirit.

What does it mean to have my heart (my spirit) transformed? Alongside my moral nature, another aspect of my being largely defines who I am; it “makes me tick.” This aspect of my being is difficult to define, but we could call it my ‘inner being’. By that I mean the entirety of my inner reality defined by: the knowledge and understanding of reality I possess; the beliefs I hold; the perceptions, outlooks, and attitudes within me; the commitments I have made; the values I hold; the desires and passions which drive me; and the priorities which obtain in my thoughts, attitudes, actions, and desires. In short, my inner being is the entirety of my subjective life and experience–my ‘subjectivity’. (Note 20) This, I submit, is what the New Testament has in mind when it speaks of the transformation of my ‘heart’ or ‘spirit’. The Spirit of God does not come into my life and transform my moral nature, turning me from a sinner by nature into a genuinely good person. He comes into my life right now to transform my ‘inner being’, my ‘subjectivity’.

One day, of course, the Holy Spirit will transform my moral nature, turning me into a perfectly good person; that is the blessing of Abraham. My complete moral transformation is the ultimate inheritance of the child of God, the promise in which he has placed all his hope. But my moral transformation is the promise for which I wait; we must not mistake it for the down-payment or earnest-money which God has put down on that inheritance. The regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer now is described in just such terms–as a down-payment on our inheritance, not the inheritance itself. (Note 21)

Accordingly, to be made new is to be given a different perception of life and reality, to be given “eyes to see”; it is to be given a heart that longs for new and different sorts of things, the things of God rather than the things of this world; (Note 22) it is to be brought to a whole different set of commitments and values, where I seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and finally, it is to be compelled to believe the truth of the story of the Gospel and to embrace it with my entire being. Such a transformed subjectivity is the miraculous and supernatural work of the Spirit of God in my life (for, naturally, my subjectivity is the antithesis to what the Spirit of God produces in me), and, as such, it tangibly and objectively marks my being as one God has chosen for mercy and eternal salvation.

Believing the Gospel is one of the most obvious and telling outcomes of the Spirit’s regenerating work. Hence, when Paul says, “walk by the Spirit,” he is speaking to those who have felt the impact of the Spirit’s regeneration, which, among other things, has brought them to believe in the Gospel of the New Covenant. If such a person “walks by the Spirit,” he will not “carry out the desire of his flesh,” Paul asserts. This is Paul’s direct rebuttal to the Judaizers.

 

4. “Walking by the Spirit”–Its Meaning in Galatians 5

What does Paul mean, then, by his exhortation to “walk by the Spirit?” We have three important clues:

(1) Whatever walking by the Spirit means, it would seem to be the antithesis of “walking by the flesh.” Paul does not actually use the phrase “walk by the flesh” in this context; but it seems quite apparent that this dichotomy lies at the basis of his whole argument. This seems to be Paul’s whole point in identifying respectively the “deeds of the flesh” and the “fruit of the Spirit.” Is not Paul suggesting that “immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, . . . and things like these” (5:19-21) are the result of walking according to the flesh, while “love, joy, peace, . . .” (5:22-23) and so forth are the result of walking according to the Spirit? Clearly, a dichotomy between walking in the Spirit and walking in the flesh is in Paul’s mind when he writes in Galatians 6:7-9:

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will reap. For the one who sows to his flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary.

(2) Whatever antithetical realities ‘flesh’ and ‘Spirit’ represent in this passage, they have to do with the passions and desires which drive us. In Galatians 5:17 Paul writes, “For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires against the flesh; for these lie in opposition to one another; with the result that you do not do the things you naturally want to do.” (Note 23) I would paraphrase what Paul is saying this way:

For what the flesh desires is incompatible with what the Spirit desires; and likewise what the Spirit desires is incompatible with what the flesh desires; for the desires of these two contrary realities are mutually exclusive of one another. Since it is not possible to fulfill both sets of desires at once, the believer will not ultimately be able to pursue the desires of his flesh. The Spirit of God has invaded his life and is transforming the desires of his heart from desires born of his flesh to desires born of the Spirit of God.

The emphasis is clear, I think. Paul sees two sets of mutually incompatible desires which could drive and determine the pursuits and behavior of a person: the desires of his natural-born, sinful self (his ‘flesh’); and the desires born of the miraculous working of the Spirit of God as He regenerates that person’s subjectivity (the ‘Spirit’). Either the flesh or the Spirit will determine the passions which control the direction of a person’s life and behavior. Galatians 5:24 further confirms Paul’s emphasis: “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

(3) Finally, the passions and desires which are the Spirit’s work within us are fundamentally drives and passions to be and to do good. I have already suggested that “walking by the flesh” is most likely synonymous with “sowing to one’s own flesh” and that “walking by the Spirit” is most likely synonymous with “sowing to the Spirit.” But in the latter passage–Galatians 6:7-10–Paul clearly means to suggest that “sowing to the Spirit” is synonymous with “doing good”:

…the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not lose heart IN DOING GOOD, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have the opportunity, let us DO GOOD to all men, especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:7-19, emphasis mine)

The inescapable connection between “not losing heart in doing good” and the promise that the one who “sows to the Spirit shall reap eternal life” is this: the one who sows to the Spirit is the one who is seeking to do good; and if he does not lose heart and grow weary in doing good (that is, in sowing to the Spirit), he will, in due time, reap the eternal life that is the promised reward of “sowing to the Spirit.” In summary, then, to “walk by the Spirit” in this context is synonymous with striving to do good.

Putting these three clues together with our understanding of the nature of the New Covenant itself, it becomes clear what Paul means by “walk by the Spirit” in Galatians 5. Before God called the believer to Himself, the person was utterly ‘fleshly’–that is, he was a totally depraved person. Not only was his moral nature evil through-and-through, but, accordingly, he had an utterly evil and rebellious subjectivity. He did not even want what God wanted for him. He did not even want what was good and right. But God’s having called him to be His child and an heir of eternal life was accompanied by a mark etched upon his heart. The Spirit of God invaded his life and began dramatically to transform his subjectivity. That transformation has many facets, but one of them–the most significant in the context of Paul’s discussion in Galatians 5–is the transformation of the believer’s desires and passions. Whereas once he wanted all that this world and the present physical age had to offer him, after the Spirit moves in his heart, he wants the kingdom of God and all that it has to offer. He wants the kingdom of God so acutely that he is willing –if need be–to forego all the world has to offer him in order to wait for the kingdom and the righteousness that makes it so attractive. Such radically different desires cannot help but translate into radically different behaviors, attitudes, and lifestyle. Indeed, as Paul suggests, if one’s desire is fundamentally to have all that this present age has to offer, the result will be a life full of things like “immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envyings, drunkenness, and carousings.” But if one’s desire is fundamentally to await the personal goodness promised to those who trust in the promise of God, the result will be a life full of things like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Dramatically different passions will necessarily translate into dramatically different deeds. What Paul means, therefore, when he says “walk by the Spirit” is this: to walk by the Spirit is to so conduct oneself that one’s life and actions are lived in conformity to the passions and desires which the Spirit of God has miraculously implanted in the heart (subjectivity) of those who are heirs of eternal life. In other words, to “walk by the Spirit” is to strive to be good in accordance with the hunger and thirst for personal goodness which the Spirit of God has created in the hearts of His elect.

Corresponding to the discussion above, to “walk by the flesh”–the antithesis of “walking by the Spirit”–is to strive to fulfill oneself in accordance with one’s natural-born passions and desires as a sinful, rebellious human being. Among other things, this means to live in such a way that one seeks to secure for himself what this present physical age has to offer–pleasure, fame, honor, respect in the eyes of other men, power, possessions, and so on. It further means to pursue desires which are perverse, unhealthy, and ultimately self-destructive.

If I am right about what it means, then strictly speaking, “walk by the Spirit” in Galatians 5 could be more helpfully translated “walk in harmony with the Spirit”(Note 24)–where “walk in harmony with the Spirit” means, more literally, “walk in harmony with those desires which the Spirit creates within His elect.” Translating en pneuma as “by the Spirit” is probably the direct result of Taoist Evangelical influence on our modern translations. (Note 25) In this passage, Paul is not suggesting that the Spirit (analogously to the Tao for the Taoist) is the power by means of which we are to live and conduct ourselves–as the Taoist Evangelical is wont to believe and as the translation “by the Spirit” can tend to suggest. Rather, Paul is suggesting that if one does conduct oneself in a manner consistent with those desires and passions which the Spirit of God produces in those whom He is saving apart from the Law, then the result will be a life of goodness and righteousness, not a life of evil and sinful indulgence. “Walk in harmony with the Spirit” captures this more accurately than “walk by the Spirit.” Accordingly, its antithesis would better be designated as “walking in harmony with the flesh” rather than “walking by the flesh.”

In this same regard, note that in Romans 8–where Paul is describing a manner of living very closely related (if not identical) to the one here in Galatians 5–he speaks not of “walking en the Spirit,” but of “walking kata (usually translated, ‘according to’) the Spirit.” The phrase in Romans 8 is not so easily construed–along Taoist Evangelical lines–as “walking by the power of the Spirit of God.” The preposition kata does not lend itself to such an interpretation without forcing. And yet, as I have suggested, there is not a significant difference in what Paul means by “walking en the Spirit” in Galatians 5 and what he means by “walking kata the Spirit” in Romans 8. A more detailed discussion of Romans 8 must wait for another time.

 

V. CONCLUSION

Presumably I have made clear what Paul had in mind in Galatians 5 by “walking en the Spirit” and not “walking en the flesh.” He clearly did not have in mind what Taoist Evangelical teaching takes it to mean. Or, at the very least, it is not at all obvious that Taoist Evangelical teaching is right when it takes “walk by the Spirit” to mean (in a Taoist vein) “live your life by allowing the divine resources of the Spirit of God to flow through you and empower you rather than drawing upon your own personal resources as you make your way through this life.”

Time does not permit me to look at any further passages in detail. But I submit that, upon closer scrutiny, none of the passages and none of the biblical phrases which the Evangelical Taoist would point to as evidence that the Bible teaches the Tao of Faith actually are such evidence. I submit that those passages do not mean what the Evangelical Taoist claims they mean.

Looking at the Bible with Evangelical Taoist lenses, all sorts of passages and phrases seem to reek with the truth of Evangelical Taoism. But once we take off those lenses and seek to allow each individual phrase and passage to speak for itself in the context of its respective argument, nothing is left of the Tao of Faith in the Bible. The Tao of Faith is a “secret” to the living of life which we bring with us to the Bible and impose upon its text; it is not one which we discover there through careful and honest study.

The Tao of Faith is an interesting, fascinating, and compelling idea. I have been held more-or-less under its sway for the past twenty-five years; and I have been pursuing a serious study of the Bible that entire time. How unbiblical and untrue the Tao of Faith is did not become decisively clear to me until I sat down to do the research and thinking that led to this paper. Much of what I have taught and thought over these past several years has been tainted by the Evangelical Taoist lenses which have remained in place. The thesis of this paper is that it is time to take them off. They do not help elucidate the meaning of the biblical text; they distort it. The Tao of Faith is an interesting idea, but it has nothing to do with biblical Christianity. It is not the secret to living the “victorious Christian life.” Indeed, there is no secret to living such a life; not one that is revealed in the Bible. The Gospel does not promise that we will transcend our sinfulness in this lifetime; we will not. Rather, transcending our sinfulness is an inheritance laid up for us in the future. One day it will be ours, but for now we must wait patiently. What we have now received is a down-payment: the power of the Spirit of God transforming our subjectivity, miraculously producing within us wisdom, understanding, desires, values, and a knowledge and love for God which otherwise would never arise in our life. That is all we can expect in this present age; but then, if we understand what God is doing in us, it is a great deal. We do not need a secret for living the Christian life; the God who has promised to save us in His time and in His way is the only secret we need.

 

Notes

1 I have not read the recent popular work The Tao of Physics. I do not know whether an acquaintance with the themes of that book would help orient you to the thesis of this paper or mislead you. I suspect that it would mislead you. Taoism has many important themes. The themes explored in the Tao of Physics are very likely different from the one that interests me in this paper. To keep things simple, set aside any acquaintance you have with the Tao of Physics and allow me to develop my arguments on a blank slate. (Back to text)

2 Ch’u Ta-Kao, Tao Te Ching (New York: Samuel Wieser, 1973), chap. 25, 37. (Back to text)

3 Ch’u Ta-Kao, Tao Te Ching, chap. 34, 48. (Back to text)

4 Huston Smith, The World’s Religions, rev. and updated ed. of: The Religions of Man, 1958 (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1991), 209. “The natural phenomenon that the Taoists saw as bearing the closest resemblance to Tao was water. They were struck by the way it would support objects and carry them effortlessly on its tide. The Chinese characters for swimmer, deciphered, mean literally ‘one who knows the nature of water’. Similarly, one who understands the basic life force knows that it will sustain one if one stops thrashing and flailing and trusts oneself to its support.” (Back to text)

5 Smith, The World’s Religions, 208. (Back to text)

6 Ray Stedman, Authentic Christianity (Waco, Texas: Word Publishing, 1975), 36. “The truly remarkable thing is that becoming a Christian does not of itself guarantee that these Christian graces will be manifest in us. It is not being a Christian that produces these, but living as a Christian. There is knowledge we must have and a choice we must make before these virtues will be consistently present. It is the knowledge of this secret [emphasis mine] which the Apostle Paul goes on to give us.” (Back to text)

7 Indeed, under one interpretation, the power by which man functions when he is not living in dependence upon the Spirit of God is the power of Satan, who has twisted and distorted the power by which natural, fleshly man operates. See Stedman, Authentic Christianity, 58-61. (Back to text)

8 Stedman, Authentic Christianity, 62-64. (Back to text)

9 “Walking by the Spirit” is an abbreviated locution for “walking by the Spirit of God.” Sometimes the phrases “walking according to the Spirit” or “walking in the Spirit” are used. And sometimes the verb “living” is substituted for “walking” in any of these phrases; hence, “living by the Spirit” is a common phrase to describe this technique. (Back to text)

10 Stedman, Authentic Christianity, 64, describes “walking by the Spirit” as “. . . depend[ing] on everything coming from God” rather than “depend[ing] on everything coming from you.” See also Stedman, Authentic Christianity, 75-77. (Back to text)

11 The notion of “walking by faith” is so taken-for-granted in the Evangelical world view that it is not often developed in Evangelical writings so much as it is the implicit, underlying assumption behind them all. There are slightly different variations on what the phrase means, but the Taoist Evangelical version–in one way or another–refers to this technique I mentioned here. See Bob George, Classic Christianity (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1989),168 ff. For another version of this same teaching, see Stedman, Authentic Christianity, 87-89, 120. (Back to text)

12 In my experience, four teachers have emphasized that learning the secret of “walking by the spirit”–or whatever they preferred to call it–is the crucial secret to living the Christian life as God meant it to be lived: Watchman Nee, Major Ian Thomas, Ray Stedman, and Bob George. However, I know there are many others with whom I simply am not familiar. (Back to text)

13 Some reasonable explanations immediately come to mind. For instance, is it significant that so many people in the 1960s read and embraced the teaching of Watchman Nee, a Chinese Christian who taught his own unique version of Victorious Christian Life theology? Watchman Nee’s teaching is rife with the sorts of parallels with Taoism that we have been discussing. Could it be that Christian theology with a Taoist caste made its way into the heart of mainstream Evangelical theology through the influence of Watchman Nee–and perhaps others like him? It would, of course, be quite understandable that a Chinese Christian like Watchman Nee might read and understand his Bible in the light of Taoist concepts and ideas. Taoism and its philosophy (in one form or another) have been common currency in China for centuries. Taoist principles are part of the very air the Chinese breathe. (Back to text)

14 George, Classic Christianity, 168, 174-175. (Back to text)

15 Galatians 5:1. (Unless otherwise noted, all quotations from the Bible are from the New American Standard Bible.) Paul’s concern throughout the letter is that the Galatians, insofar as they are attracted to the false gospel of the Judaizers, are showing that they do not really believe the Gospel nor want its salvation. He appeals to them to remain steadfast in believing the truth of the Gospel and its implications for how one ought to live: “. . . keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” He wants them to understand fully, acknowledge, and live out the truth that justification is a gift of God’s grace to whomever God has chosen, not a prize awarded to those who keep a set of moral or religious laws. (Back to text)

16 Galatians 5:13, my interpretive re-write. (Back to text)

17 The New Testament writers describe this act of God’s regenerating my inner being in order to make my election visible as His ‘sanctifying’ me. (Back to text)

18 In this regard, it is very tempting to interpret the references to circumcision in Colossians 2:9-15 in this same vein–namely, as a reference to the activity of the Spirit in marking the hearts of those who are His children. As tempting as it is, however, I think Paul is drawing a different sort of analogy between circumcision and the work of Christ in Colossians 2:9-15. This passage is, I think, a parallel argument to the argument of Romans 6. In the case of the one who believes in Christ, the person he once was–an innately and inescapably sinful person who stood condemned to eternal death as a result of his intractable sinfulness (that is, a person who was “dead in his transgressions”)–has been crucified and buried; he has been “cut off” and thrown away (like the foreskin of the penis in circumcision). In his place stands a brand new person–one who, because of the forgiveness that exists in Jesus, stands qualified and ready to inherit the eternal life promised to Abraham. Such a person is a “new man.” The “death” of the old man–the condemned man–is likened to circumcision by describing this old man as being “cut off.” In the Colossians passage, the “cutting off” of the old man is a direct result of the “cutting off” of Jesus Himself. When Jesus, on the cross, received the wrath of condemnation which was my due, His death amounted to the condemnation of (the “cutting off” of) my “old man”–what Paul here calls my “body of flesh.” This made it possible for me to be a new man destined for eternal life rather than eternal death. (Back to text)

19 Kenneth S. Wuest, “The Believer and the Isolation of the Evil Nature” in Great Truths to Live By, reprinted in Wuest’s Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, vol. 3, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966), 75. “He sanctifies the person in that He breaks the power of the indwelling sinful nature and imparts His divine nature, thus freeing the individual from the power of sin and enabling him to live a life pleasing to God, doing this at the moment the sinner puts his faith in the Lord Jesus as Saviour. This act is followed by a process which goes on during the believer’s life as he yields himself to the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who eliminates sin from his life and produces a life in which the Christian virtues are present.” (Back to text)

20 Following the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard, ‘subjectivity’ is the term I prefer for capturing the concept of heart or spirit in the New Testament in this context. Accordingly, it is a new ‘subjectivity’–the subjectivity of a saint–which the Spirit of God produces in the child of God. For a detailed discussion of this, see my paper “The Anatomy of Sainthood,” published by McKenzie Study Center in their series entitled “MSC Studies in Christian Theology.” (Back to text)

21 See Ephesians 1:13-14 and II Corinthians 1:22. (Back to text)

22 That is, “to love God,” which is ultimately one and the same thing as “hungering and thirsting after righteousness.” (Back to text)

23 My translation. (Back to text)

24 Or, “walk in conformity to the Spirit,” or even “walk in harmony with the Spirit.” (Back to text)

25 The King James Version translates Galatians 5:16, “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” [emphasis mine] Note the translation “in the Spirit,” not “by the Spirit.” (Back to text)

Copyright February 1994 by McKenzie Study Center, an institute of Gutenberg College.

Jack Crabtree